2 ordered to pay cousins over ‘fictional land recovery case’-A A +A
Sunday, July 22, 2012
LIFE imitating art. Such is the circumstance surrounding one of the latest cases resolved by the Court of Appeals (CA) involving an Ilongga environment official and her husband.
Calling it a “saga of wealth, inheritance, blood ties, lies and deceit,” CA Associate Justice Pamela Ann Abella Maxino not only affirmed a lower court’s decision but did so with modifications.
And this, in favor of twin sisters Marie Lou Batislaong and Marie Ann Martinez who are now both based in the United States. The case as resolved is for the recovery of sum of money and damages that stemmed from a supposed recovery of a 61-hectare fishpond in Ivisan, Capiz.
Hurled to court was couple Luzminda and Albert Arceno in what Associate Justice Maxino said was a story that led to the “financial destruction and ruin of a couple and the severance of close familial bonds.”
“Unfortunately, this is not one of those late afternoon soap opera tales of fiction but factual realities,” excerpts of the 17-page decision states.
The twin sisters’ plight began in April 1997 after a phone call between Marie Lou and cousin Luzminda.
“Pleasantries, gossip, updates and news were exchanged between the pair. Status of the family, health, careers and children were discussed. In the flow and ebb of conversation, the topic of a 61-hectare fishpond sprung up,” case background went as discussed in the decision.
Luzminda was then with the legal department of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Western Visayas and intimated “that the government database contains documentation that the late father of the twins, Marie Lou and Marie Ann, still has pieces of property registered under his name.”
“She (Luzminda) professed to Marie Lou that with her clout as a lawyer of the DENR and her connections, the twin can definitely recover the same. The only hitch, she contends, is whether Marie Lou is willing to finance the same,” the decision said, adding that the twin sister was eventually “enticed with such assurances.”
Incidentally, a check with DENR confirmed that Luzminda is not a lawyer. To date, she carries the title Land Management Officer III detailed at the Land Management Division.
The course of exchanges continued in the next three years with thousands in dollars of remittances sent primarily by Marie Lou then later, with the help of Marie Ann.
Both apparently believed the updates made by Luzminda on the supposed recovery efforts of their inheritance. Among the stories told was about a certain San Antonio who turned out to be a fictional character passed as the fishpond’s occupant.
A Judge Pestano, who albeit a real presiding judge, was just name-dropped by Luzminda. So elaborate were the stories that had the twin sisters shell out thousands of dollars more. There was that need for land survey, gifts for the judge and justices, gifts for court personnel and airfares and hotel accommodations to and from Iloilo for follow-ups.
There was also the need to pay for bodyguards of the justices handling the inheritance case. All as now established by the CA, were works of (Luzminda’s) fiction.
Even the Supreme Court was not spared in the elaborate story with the twin sisters made to pay for the supposed legal services of a lawyer Kapunan.
They need him, the story went, “as their counsel so that his status, being a son of a justice, would help them should the case reach the Supreme Court.”
“All these expenses took a toll on the finances of Marie Lou and she was forced to ask the help from her twin sister,” the decision added as the scenario became even more extensive.
The twin sisters were eventually told by Luzminda that they won the recovery inheritance suit in Judge Pestano’s sala and awarded P40 million.
Yet no actual awarding of the money yet since an appeal was made by Mr. San Antonio before the CA which, according to Luzminda, even increased the award to P75 million.
In the end though, not even a single money nor a piece of land was given to the twin sisters as both later learned that everything about the fishpond recovery and expenses were one big sham.
No Mr. San Antonio, no Judge Pestano, no justices with bodyguards, no lawyer Kapunan, no 61-hectare fishpond, no court personnel who got the gifts. No P40 million much more, P75 million.
What it was, the twin sisters later discovered following an emergency visit to the Philippines of Marie Ann’s husband, was “a grand big house with expensive furnishings and even a car in the garage” of the Arceno couple.
“The act of defendants-appellants spouses Arceno in deceiving their own relatives into financing a fictional litigation for the recovery of a large swath of land is a manifest reprehensible act. It exhibits clear abuse of trust and confidence reposed on them by their own kin and blood,” Associate Justice Maxino wrote, adding that because of the Arceno’s “willful misrepresentation and saccharine assurances,” the twin sisters and their husbands willingly parted with hard-earned savings to recover what they thought were lawfully theirs.
To note, Marie Lou and husband Leo Batislaong had to file for bankruptcy before the Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of Texas in March of 2001.
Associate Justice Maxino also slammed Luzvminda’s misrepresentation of herself as a lawyer.
And with these strong words saying Luzminda “used the majesty of her government position to unjustly enrich herself through deceit, fraud and a web of lies that spanned a period of over three years at the expense and financial ruin of her own fist degree cousin. Such act is clearly contrary to law, morals, good customs and public policy.”
As such, the affirmation of the lower court’s order for the Arceno couple to pay up and more.
Pay up US$40,294.18 or its equivalent in Philippine currency and P62,000.00 to Marie Lou. Pay up too, twin sister Marie Ann P288,039.67 and added P300,000 in moral damages, P100,000 in exemplary damages and P50,000 as temperate damages.
The order as penned by associate justice was concurred by Associate Justices Edgardo Delos Santos and Zenaida Galapate Laguilles.
The moral damages, the CA stressed, is not intended to enrich the twin sisters at the expense of their cousin and her husband.
“It is awarded to enable the injured party to obtain means, diversions, or amusements that will serve to alleviate the moral suffering they have undergone,” the decision went.
Meantime, exemplary damages of P100,000 the CA said is justified “to set a public example and a deterrent from abuses of one’s knowledge of the law and position in public service.”
And temperate damages as well of P50,000 for the phone bills as the sisters accumulated US18,253.20 in phone expenses.
“It is a sad sight to witness members of the same family scuffling it out in Court to demand monies that they could have easily shared benevolently with each other,” Associate Justice Maxino wrote. “But it is sadder reality that money can drive members of the same family to such depraved extents to acquire the same. It is this Court’s prayer that even through all these, the parties may still find the grace to patch things up and make amends with each other.”
The twin sisters were aided by counsel, noted Ilonggo lawyer Roberto Catolico. (Florence F. Hibionada)